Acting President of the United States

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Acting President of the
United States of America
George HW Bush.jpg 46 Dick Cheney 3x4.jpg
Only two people have held the position of Acting President: George H. W. Bush (left) and Dick Cheney (right)
Appointer President of the United States
Constituting instrument United States Constitution
First holder George H. W. Bush (1985)

An Acting President of the United States is an individual who legitimately exercises the powers and duties of the office of President of the United States even though that person does not hold the office in his or her own right. There is an established order in which officials of the United States federal government may be called upon to take on presidential responsibilities if the incumbent president becomes incapacitated, dies, resigns, or is removed from office (by impeachment by the House of Representatives and subsequent conviction by the Senate) during their four-year term of office.

Presidential succession is referred to multiple times in the U.S. Constitution – Article II, Section 1, Clause 6, as well as the 20th Amendment and 25th Amendment. The Vice President is the only officeholder named in the Constitution as a presidential successor. The Article II succession clause authorizes Congress to designate which federal officeholders would accede to the the presidency in the event the vice president were unavailable to do so, which it has done on three occasions. The current Presidential Succession Act was adopted in 1947, and last revised in 2006. The succession order is as follows: Vice President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, President pro tempore of the Senate, and then the eligible heads of federal executive departments who form the president's Cabinet, beginning with the Secretary of State.

If the presidency becomes vacant the vice president automatically becomes president; he may also become the acting president, as prescribed in the Twenty-fifth Amendment. If the presidency and vice presidency both become vacant however, the statutory successor called upon would not become president, but would only be acting as president. To date, two vice presidents—George H. W. Bush (once) and Dick Cheney (twice)—have been acting president. No one lower in the line of succession has yet been called upon to act as president.

Constitutional texts[edit]

Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 (1787)[edit]

  • Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 makes the vice president first in the line of succession and allows the Congress to provide by law for cases in which neither the president nor vice president can serve.[1]

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.[2]

Twentieth Amendment (1933)[edit]

Section 3 of the 20th Amendment declares that if the president-elect dies before his term begins, the vice president-elect becomes president on Inauguration Day and serves for the full term to which the president-elect was elected, and also that, if on Inauguration Day, a president has not been chosen or the president-elect does not qualify for the presidency, the vice president-elect acts as president until a president is chosen or the president-elect qualifies. It also authorizes Congress to provide for instances in which neither a president-elect nor a vice president-elect have qualified (which it has not chosen to do).[3]

Section 3
If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.[2]

Twenty-fifth Amendment (1967)[edit]

Sections 3 and 4 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment provide for situations where the president is temporarily disabled, such as if the president has a surgical procedure, becomes unfit, or is otherwise unable to discharge the powers of the presidency.[4]}

Section 3
Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.[2]

History[edit]

Before Twenty-fifth Amendment[edit]

On April 4, 1841, William Henry Harrison was the first sitting President to die in office.[5] The Cabinet decided that Vice President John Tyler would assume the responsibilities of President under the title "Vice-President acting President".[6] Instead of accepting the Cabinet's proposed title, Tyler asserted that the Constitution gave him full and unqualified powers of office and had himself sworn in immediately as President, setting a critical precedent for an orderly transfer of power following a President's death.[7] However, there were members of Congress such as Representative John Quincy Adams who felt that Tyler should be a caretaker under the title of "Acting President", or remain vice president in name.[8] Senator Henry Clay saw Tyler as the "vice-president" and his presidency as a mere "regency".[9]

Since Twenty-fifth Amendment[edit]

Proposed by the 89th Congress and subsequently ratified by the states in 1967, the Twenty-fifth Amendment established formal procedures for addressing instances of presidential disability. Its Section 3 was invoked for the first time at 11:28 am on July 13, 1985, when President Ronald Reagan underwent colon cancer surgery while under the anesthesia. Vice President George H. W. Bush became the first Acting President in United States history until 7:22 pm, when Reagan reclaimed his authority.[10][11] The Twenty-fifth Amendment was invoked for a second time at 7:09 am on June 29, 2002, when President George W. Bush underwent a colonoscopy. For two hours and fifteen minutes, Vice President Dick Cheney was the Acting President.[12] Cheney became Acting President for the second time on July 21, 2007, while Bush had a second colonoscopy.[13]

List of Acting Presidents[edit]

Acting President[14] Term of office Party President
George HW Bush.jpg George H. W. Bush
Born 1924
(94 years old)
July 13, 1985
11:28 am
July 13, 1985
7:22 pm
  Republican Ronald Reagan
Richard Cheney 2005 official portrait.jpg Dick Cheney
Born 1941
(77 years old)
June 29, 2002
7:09 am
June 29, 2002
9:24 am
Republican George W. Bush
July 21, 2007
7:16 am
July 21, 2007
9:21 am

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Feerick, John. "Essays on Article II: Presidential Succession". The Heritage Guide to the Constitution. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved June 12, 2018. 
  2. ^ a b c "Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation" (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. August 26, 2017. pp. 3–44. Retrieved July 20, 2018. 
  3. ^ Larson, Edward J.; Shesol, Jeff. "The Twentieth Amendment". The Interactive Constitution. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The National Constitution Center. Retrieved July 20, 2018. 
  4. ^ Kalt, Brian C.; Pozen, David. "The Twenty-fifth Amendment". The Interactive Constitution. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The National Constitution Center. Retrieved July 20, 2018. 
  5. ^ "President Harrison Dies–April 4, 1841". Miller Center of Public Affairs. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2018. 
  6. ^ Dinnerstein, p. 447.
  7. ^ "John Tyler: Life in Brief". Miller Center of Public Affairs. Archived from the original on January 31, 2017. Retrieved January 15, 2018. 
  8. ^ Chitwood, pp. 203–07.
  9. ^ Seager, pp. 142, 151.
  10. ^ Boyd, Gerald M. (July 14, 1985). "Reagan Transfers Power to Bush for 8-Hour Period of 'Incapacity'". The New York Times. Washington, D.C. Retrieved January 15, 2018. 
  11. ^ Maugh II, Thomas H. (July 27, 1985). "Reagan's Surgery for Colon Cancer Breaks a Taboo, Brings a Floodtide of Calls". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 15, 2018. 
  12. ^ "President George W. Bush's Historic Transfer of Power" (PDF). NBC. June 29, 2002. Retrieved January 15, 2018. 
  13. ^ Baker, Peter (July 21, 2007). "Bush Will Temporarily Hand Reins To Cheney". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 15, 2018. 
  14. ^ "List of Vice-Presidents Who Served as "Acting" President Under the 25th Amendment". University of California, Santa Barbara. Retrieved January 15, 2018. 

References[edit]